From Chicken Soup for the Horse Lover's Soul II

God’s Gift

If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.

Henry David Thoreau

I believe that God gives us hints of what we will find in heaven through the gifts he gives us here on earth. My greatest glimpse of heaven came at a time when I felt the farthest away from God’s grace, in the form of a 16-hand sorrel Quarter Horse named Chex.

My family moved to northern Idaho when I was in the seventh grade. It was a terrible time for me, filled with heartbreak and loneliness. I had few friends, I was plagued with shyness and I was far larger than the popular girls in school. Everything in life seemed to be against me. My parents encouraged me to pursue horseback competition to make up for my lack of athletic ability in any school sport. So I entered Chex, my thirteen-year-old horse, into the 4-H horse division. The idea that Chex, an aged, used Quarter Horse could even come close to winning a grand championship in Western pleasure was a complete joke. He was a retired roping and pack horse with the personality of a Labrador retriever and had more miles on him than our farm’s beat-up old pickup truck.

My first day of 4-H was worse than I could ever have imagined. Not only was I totally left out of the close-knit circles of friends already formed, but I had no idea how to ride Western pleasure. It was clear that these teams were well-trained and rehearsed. My wild and completely uncontrolled lap around the arena was more of a rodeo ride than anything resembling a show-horse performance. Hunched wide-eyed over Chex’s neck and clutching the saddle horn for dear life, I bounced a foot out of the saddle with every jolt of Chex’s fast-gaited, roping-horse jog.

I heard the muffled giggles and felt the hard stares from other riders in the arena as I tugged on Chex’s reins. He immediately came to an abrupt halt, almost throwing me over his head, which only added to my embarrassment. Defeated, I led Chex back to our trailer, avoiding everyone’s gaze including my mom’s. “Now honey, this is only your first time in the show arena,” Mom consoled me, “Most of these girls could ride before they could walk.” Her words barely registered and I ignored the playful nudge from Chex’s muzzle.

That night lying in bed, I looked out my window and stared into the endless starlit north Idaho sky. I thought of that distant God I knew only superficially from my childhood Bible study classes. “God,” I said, my voice shaking with emotion, “I know we don’t talk much, but I need your help.” I prayed that God would help me find happiness and friendship. I asked Him to let me find myself and where I belonged. I felt so lost.

The next day at school was no different from the horrible ones that had preceded it. I rode home on the bus feeling alone and totally ignored by everyone, including God. I stepped off the bus, my head hanging as low as my spirits and I heard Chex’s familiar nicker. I looked up to see him prancing alongside the pasture fence as if beckoning me to ride him. Chex’s head was held Arabian high, his red mane flowed behind him in undulant waves and his feet were lifting in a joyful dance, hardly touching the ground.

My eyes widened and in that moment, I felt different. It was like seeing Chex for the first time and in a completely new way. He wasn’t a used-up roping horse that couldn’t compete with the other horses. I saw a loving and spirited companion who wanted to share the fun and beauty in life with me; he was an angel, sent by God to heal my heart. I dropped my backpack and began brushing Chex’s thick, furry coat with my bare hands. I grabbed his halter, swung myself onto him and rode him bareback in our sand arena.

As we loped around the arena, my worries and hurt vanished. The only reality that remained was that of girl and horse. Breathing deeply, I inhaled the pure scent of pine trees and horsehair. As we pulled to a stop in the middle of the arena, I leaned forward and threw my arms around Chex’s neck in a loving hug. I felt joy, something that had been buried deep inside me under the invisible wounds and painful problems that I’d carried alone since childhood.

That day marked a new chapter in my life. I began to see the beauty and grace in the world around me. Each day, I’d race home from school to ride my four-footed friend who always greeted me with the same joyful nicker. Chex became my confidante; his wise, deep-brown eyes comforted and soothed me in ways that words never could. I was still an awkward and uncoordinated teenager with frizzy hair and extra chub, but something inside of me was different. At the weekly 4-H meetings, I no longer worried about what other people thought of me. I kept my attention fixed on riding Chex and I gained a new confidence in life. I had found unconditional acceptance in Chex, who loved me whether or not I was deemed “cool,” or was an all-star athlete or boy magnet.

The night before our county fair, the pinnacle of local 4-H competition, I hopped up on Chex’s bare back. The sun set over the mountains as we loped around the arena and I felt the same joy and freedom as I had the day after my prayer. I closed my eyes, feeling Chex’s muscles rippling beneath me and the cool breeze rushing past us, serenaded by the intensifying humming of the crickets. “Lord, help us tomorrow, "79132131770084">give us faith in ourselves,” I prayed.

We arrived at the fair. My heart pounded and my stomach lurched as Chex and I entered the arena at a jog behind the other polished riders. I gripped the reins with shaking hands and my legs wobbled helplessly in the stirrups. Luckily, Chex was on autopilot. Making up for my seeming paraplegia, he took over dancing around the arena, ears pricked forward, his deep brown eyes sparkling. The entire year’s work had come down to this moment. It was our chance to prove ourselves. I glanced down at Chex and I felt his spirit fill me. Suddenly it was just us again, a girl and a horse loping bareback and free in an arena. A smile spread across my face as a new peace enveloped me, diminishing my fears.

When the class ended and all the horses lined up in the middle of the arena, I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face. As the judge walked down the line placing her marks, I realized that I had erased all thoughts of competition from my mind. Although touching your horse while the judge was finalizing the scores was taboo, I snuck a pat to Chex’s neck and whispered a thank you. Instantly, his right ear pivoted backwards to acknowledge and receive it.

The judge approached me, a smile on her face. “Well Missy, I can’t say you or your horse were the most practiced Western pleasure pair I’ve ever seen, but you definitely have something that the other riders didn’t. You have a love and happiness that reminds me of myself when I was young. Never lose that,” she said, giving Chex’s neck a pat.

We exited the arena with only a red ribbon, but I couldn’t have been more proud. What did a blue ribbon matter? I had already been given the top prize, a best friend named Chex.

Mikkel Becker

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